Everybody wants to be a DJ. Right?
DJ and home mixing provide endless fun for you and your friends to enjoy. There is a great sense of magic and pleasure that comes from being in control of the music, and mastering it is considered an art form.
The ability to be in control of the music being played is an amazing way to express yourself creatively, making this a fantastic hobby to learn and engage with.
In this article, we are going to provide the ultimate guide to learning to DJ, the basics of mixing, and creating your own DJ setup at home.
Learning to DJ
Remember the first time you ever cooked? Did you rustle up a banquet 3-course dinner with a wine to pair each meal? Or perhaps you burnt your toast?
DJing and home mixing is much the same; it is a fine art that must be honed over time. Just like getting to grips with all the spices in your kitchen cabinet, DJing has a range of elements that need to be understood in order to master them.
No one under the sun who first laid their hands upon a pair of decks suddenly reanimated as Grandmaster Flash or Carl Cox. Don’t be afraid to get stuck in and make a few mistakes on the way. Not only is it part of the fun, making your own mistakes is the best way to learn from them and improve your technique.
Who Can Learn to DJ?
DJing and home mixing is a hobby that anyone can get their teeth stuck into. Anyone from 5 to 85 years old can take an interest in this hobby. The most important credential is that the budding DJ has a passion for music, a genuine interest in the hobby, and a willingness to learn.
Tip: Although reading articles and watching videos is useful for getting a basic understanding of how things work, there is no better substitute than getting stuck in yourself. The best way to learn DJing is to play a track and play around with the different knobs.
Is It Hard to Learn How to DJ?
DJing, like any other musical instrument, requires practice to master, and some inevitably find it easier to pick up than others. It is almost unheard of for someone who is genuinely interested in learning the craft that hasn’t been able to mix after some practice.
There are many tools you can use to make the process of learning easier. For example, many pieces of hardware have a “sync” button to automatically synchronize the tracks you are mixing for you.
How Long Does It Take to Learn?
Learning the basics usually only takes a matter of time. After a few hours of getting to grips with what each knob, wheel, and button does, you will be able to take control of a small dance floor in your living room.
Tip: You will learn quicker if you are learning with someone else at the same time. You will share your sense of excitement and bounce off one another.
The Basics of Mixing
When you are mixing as a DJ, your aim is to create a sequence of tracks blended together in a seamless, endless, uninterrupted flow of music. Mixing techniques vary from genre to genre.
Most dance music mixes strive for smooth transitions to journey through one continuous groove, whereas hip-hop DJs often use cutting or scratching techniques.
Whatever kind of DJ you are, learning the fundamentals of mixing remains valuable. You do not need lots of experience to create great mixes and smooth transitions. An understanding of the basics is all that is required.
Learn to Beat-Match
The most common skill needed to mix tracks is known as beat matching. This involves adjusting the speed of two tracks to align their beat/tempo/BPM. Learning to beat-match enables you to move from one track into the next seamlessly and effortlessly. It is what every DJ needs to achieve.
Another reason to master beat-matching is that it will help you to attune your ears to the nuances of each track you play. When you become more experienced, you will be able to recognize exactly when a track is slipping out of sync and know how to recover it.
Tip: Practice makes
perfect permanent! If you genuinely want to improve, then practicing as often as possible is the best way to go.
Understanding frequency volumes can really bring your mixes to life.
Although delays and reverbs make for cool transitions, having a handle on low, mid, and high-frequency volumes lay the foundation for smooth and seamless mixing. Not being able to use them effectively means you cannot progress, so take your time getting to grips with these.
Lower frequencies account for the deep kick drums and bass-lines of your tracks and these are the driving force behind your music.
Lower frequency sounds can clash and conflict with one another if not mixed well, so you always want the low frequency from one track to take center stage. Oftentimes, it is the frequency spectrum you must be the most careful with when mixing one track into the other.
Tip: Transition your second track into the one already playing by slowly bringing down the low frequency of your first track and bringing in the kick or bass line from the second track you are mixing in.
Mid frequencies account for instrumentation such as riffs, vocals, and melodies. You do not typically want two vocals from two separate tracks playing as this takes the feeling away from both and usually does not quite work.
Rather, it is good to have an idea of the structure and progression of each track you play beforehand so that you can time when to bring the next track. This way, the instrumentation in these mid frequencies will not clash.
High frequencies accommodate sounds such as high hats, pads, or other background percussive or vocal elements. These often add detail to your tracks which can set the mood or carry the emotion of each track.
High frequencies clash much less by nature, so are often the easiest frequency to mix in first.
Tip: Although it may seem obvious, remember to play the music you love. Build playlists of your favorite tracks and practice with these first and be sure to keep adding to your playlists over time with new tracks you discover.
Many CDJ’s or DJ Controllers come with in-built effects/fx that can be used for transitions. They alter the sound when you are mixing which can be used for smoother transitions and blends between tracks, creating an atmosphere in breaks, and building tension in buildups and drops.
Filters and EQ
Filters sweep in or out a particular frequency band. They are fantastic to add some movement into delay lines or as part of transitions between tracks.
Echo & Delay
Echo and delay sounds are created by simulating the original sound in accordance with particular parameters. You can utilize 2 beat delays that create long delays to build atmosphere right the way up to a much shorter 1/8th delay that is used for building tension.
Most people have heard of, or have a basic understanding of, reverb. Digital reverb emulations use multiple delays, filters, and feedback to emulate a dense reverberation effect similar to what you may hear occurring naturally in a large room.
Distortion is defined by an overdrive of the signal to create a fuzzy sound. Too much distortion can sound harsh, but when used in moderation it can effectively create warmth or tone.
A flanger creates its unique sound by copying the original signal and delaying its playback by varying amounts. While one signal is playing, the other is delayed by gradually changing amounts to produce an outer-space harmonic sweeping effect.
The Golden Rule
The golden rule: know your music. Practice often and get to know your favorite tracks inside out. Your songs are the building blocks for your mix, and understanding their structure, format, key, beat, melodies, builds, and breaks will help you create flowing sets.
Where Can I DJ?
You can DJ almost anywhere, but it is important to think about where you will be playing, who you are playing to, and what type of atmosphere you intend to create.
Tip: It is important to consider how the sound will travel in the space you have your speakers set up. Sound travels differently outdoors to indoors. Likewise, the sound reverberates differently in small rooms to big rooms.
Build a DJ Setup at Home
If you are eager to start building your own set up for DJ and home mixing, you will require a particular set of equipment to get you started. It is possible to customize an entire DJ set up to what best suits you.
Beginners Set Up
A full DJ setup must consist of at least two decks. This is so that, when DJing, two tracks can be played simultaneously to blend and form a mix. These can either be two vinyl turntables, CDJs, or DJ controllers.
A DJ mixer is used to mix one track into the next. They are usually the unit between the two decks that have lots of knobs and buttons on them. The continuous blending of one track into the next is what is commonly referred to as “building a set.”
There would be no fun in DJing at home if you did not have some speakers to hear the music! To complete your set up, speakers are a must.
Tip: When looking for speakers, be aware of “passive” and “active” speakers. Many HiFi speakers are passive speakers that require an external power amplifier to operate. Active speakers have an in-built power amplifier so only require a power source.
In order to create a smooth and seamless mix, you will require a good pair of headphones. Headphones are used for “cueing” which is the term used to describe preparing the incoming track to play. Whether you are mixing in your bedroom or performing to a packed-out club, having a good pair of DJ headphones is crucial.
Equipment in More Detail
When you are DJing, two decks or turntables are needed to mix one record from one deck into another record from the other deck. The action of mixing or blending one track into the other is performed via the mixer. Once the first track has been mixed out, you can begin to mix a new track from the previous deck.
Most typically used by beginners, a DJ controller is an entry-level set up for home mixing. DJ controllers are an all-in-one unit featuring two decks, a built-in mixer, and effects. They are commonly used alongside software to enhance the mixing experience.
They are a great option for budding DJ’s who are just starting out, and many controllers come with free versions of DJ software.
There are some excellent quality DJ controllers out there, but some of our favorites are Pioneer, Numark, and Akai.
In recent years, CDJ’s has become the staple format for DJs. They are more accessible than vinyl turntables for a number of reasons.
One advantage is that you have a “cue” button that enables you to prepare the next track easily, whereas on vinyl turntables you would need to rewind and find the first beat again. In addition, they are more functional because all of your music can be stored on a USB rather than having to replace the record each time you change track.
Vinyl turntables are the classic form of DJing. Playing records on vinyl is an experience like no other and handling the records themselves is perhaps the most tangible way to listen to music. That being said, it is also considered to be the most difficult to master.
When using turntables, you need to locate/cue up the first beat of the track you intend to play using your headphones before releasing it into the mix. Vinyl turntables are used for the famous technique of “scratching” which involves using your hand to shift a record forwards and backward to produce the iconic, repetitive warping sound.
Fact: Vinyl is a crucial part of DJ culture, with entire genres defined by turntable mixing and the sampling of vinyl records.
The mixer does what it says on the tin – mix. It enables you to blend one track into another. Your typical mixer will have a range of features that enable you to mix tracks seamlessly, such as high and low pass filters that sweep out upper and lower frequencies from one or both tracks.
The mixer also gives you complete control over volume, BPM, and frequency bands such as low, mid, and high frequencies, enabling you to isolate or incorporate different elements of the sound spectrum from each track or channel.
Many mixers also come equipped with in-built effects such as delays and reverbs to further help the blending and transitions of your mix.
Once you hit play, you are in total control of the sound. Try turning the high-pass filter to the left and then to the right. You will be able to hear how the sound changes, sweeping the higher frequencies of sound. Try this again with the low-pass filter. Play around with the effects.
In terms of the audio sequence, the mixer is the final step controlling what you and your audience hear from the speakers.
There are several DJ software programs available that are digital emulations of vinyl turntables. These include Traktor, Serato, and Virtual DJ.
These also offer the ability for the user to “sync” tracks which is a function that beat matches your tracks for you. This is great for beginners to grasp the basics of DJing, as well as allowing users to focus on mixing, fades, and/or EQ.
There are also programs that allow users to store entire libraries of music with pre-input information including BPM and song key which help you to beat-match your tracks or prepare your mixes.
Despite being the most unglamorous aspect of your set up, they are also the most essential. You will need power cables for your speakers and decks, as well as a good pair of quality RCA cables. If you plan on using a microphone for MCing, you will also need some XLR cables.
How Much Will It Cost?
DJing and home mixing can be an expensive hobby if you allow it. Decks can range anywhere from $100-$300 for beginner decks to upwards of $6000 for a top of the range kit. On top of that, building up your music collection can incur additional costs.
Tip: Whether you choose to use CDJ’s, a DJ controller, or vinyl turntables is down to personal preference and budget. If you are a beginner, a good DJ controller is both cost-effective and constructive for you to learn the basics. Keeping it simple will also enable you to learn much faster.
In this article, we have looked at learning how to DJ, outlined the basics of mixing, and detailed how to build your own DJ set up at home.
We hope this guide gives you a taste of what could be in store if you try your hand at Djing and home mixing.
It is a fantastic hobby to learn with your friends and once you start you may never look back.